Merciful Antiope, Mona Vanderwaal continues her reign of being the greatest character in Rosewood history right up until the end! Is she A.D.? No, I don’t think so. Pretty Little Liars‘ writers never met a reveal they didn’t like to exposit standing right on top of the finish line (except the best reveal, which was that Ezra was A). But she has managed to steal the LITERAL GAME back from whoever’s playing with the Liars now. The Game starts out in Alison and Emliy’s bedroom. They find it when they’re chastely making their chaste way upstairs to chastely engage in some chaste scissoring — but when the police arrive with a search warrant a few minutes later it has disappeared. It ends up in Mona’s apartment. The way her eyebrows pop up when a prison cage emerges at the very end is a true and full glory.
As per, Mona accomplishes more in a single day than all these beautiful lemurs combined. After the search warrants have been doled out to all the Liars — very good directing and editing here, I actually felt panicked for a minute — they hole up in a suite in the Radley to discuss next steps. There are no next steps. They’re fresh out of food and ideas. But: Knock, knock, it’s Mona. She swaggers in and sits right down on the couch in such a way that splits up Emily and Alison and then explains that Aria is on the A.D. team. Spencer wants “hard proof” because Mona’s soft proof of Aria being all the places all the bad things happen isn’t enough. So, fine, Mona intercepted a phone call between Aria and A.D. and she knows the exact location they’re meeting in the park and it just speaks so highly of her adrenalized hyperreality that none of the Liars even question how she’s able to continue to do all these dark magics or why.
The Liars go to the park and Aria is, indeed, there in her black hoodie. They’re all very surprised to see each other. Spencer jumps to blaming Aria for her parents getting divorced, because she thinks Aria put that Mary Drake recording on her house’s PA system. Which: I mean, yeah, Aria did some dumb and duplicitous shit these last many days, but she did not impregnate half the people in this town and then plot the murders of her various mistresses. Peter Hastings did that all by himself. Veronica finally deciding to bounce was no one’s fault but his. Aria counters Spencer’s yelling with the most random and hilarious bit of Spencer history: One time she kidnapped Ezra’s fake son and took him to a puppet horror show! Spencer’s like, “Wow, that’s a deep cut.” The other Liars don’t remember what the fuck Aria is even talking about.
Aria: Okay, but it’s like this. Does everyone remember my fiance stalking us and writing a book about our dead best friend when he was our literature teacher?
Liars: Is this before you made that face on the ski lift?
Aria: Right, yes, before that. So on the ski lift remember how he revealed that he had preyed upon me knowing I was a youth?
Liars: Is this before Alison said he statutory rapes because he’s too romantic for his own good?
Aria: Yes, exactly. So anyway, when I found out he was a predator I filled out a police report. I was so mad, you guys. I never submitted it, though, and now A.D. has got their hands on it and is threatening to take it to the police.
Alison: So you’re terrorizing us to keep the guy who terrorized you out of jail?
Aria: Yes! Thank you for understanding. So we’re good?
No, in fact, they are not good! Detective Tanner, who has taken over the case from Detective Fury, calls the Liars and tells them to come on down to the Rosewood Police Department for another round of menacing cop talk.
Tanner tells the Liars she’s “a closer” and says she specifically requested to come back to town to lock them all away. It’s a pretty bold claim from a detective who investigated these guys for 25 seasons, was never able to file charges against them that stuck, and ultimately found them locked up in an underground bunker. She also has the distinction of hiring Toby Cavanaugh as an officer of the law. She does, however, say a thing to Spencer that sums it all up: “I always felt that you were guilty, in some way. I just never knew how.” It ranks right up there with Jenna Marshall saying “I feel a lot safer when I’m in charge of what happens to me” when it comes to dialogue that captures the essence of what made the best parts of this show so good.
I actually wrote about this before the final season of Pretty Little Liars started:
For a precious handful of golden seasons, Pretty Little Liars was everything I wanted out of a TV show: a haunting microcosm of besieged female sexuality. Who is A? Who cares. Here’s the real question: What if the Dead Blonde Girl knew she was going to die, and why? What if Laura Palmer and Lily Kane and those girls whose names you can’t remember from True Detective and The Killing and half the cold opens of Law & Order: SVU understood that they were going to be claimed by the same puritanical hysteria that destroyed the witches who came before them? To purge. To purify. To punish them for the desires they stirred by simply existing. What if the Messiah wasn’t a man, but a woman. Wasn’t a lamb, but a wolf. What if the Dead Blonde Girl was queer? What if she shook the snow globe?
If PLL had kept digging there, kept exploring, kept pushing boundaries and buttons, Tanner describing an actual witch hunt would have had me in raptures here at the end. What an accidental self-indictment, not only of Tanner but of our culture at large. “I always felt that you were guilty, in some way. I just never knew how.” That’s how we’re taught to feel about powerful, unapologetic women! It’s why it was so easy for Fox News and the GOP to turn Hillary Clinton into a Satan in the minds of 50 million Americans! It’s half the reason Donald Trump is president right now! The Liars are the ones who have spent years being hunted, by both their stalkers and the police. They’re perpetual victims. But the people in authority continue to persecute them. I always felt that you were guilty, in some way. I just never knew how.
Anyway, Tanner found some shattered windshield glass in Hanna’s shower with Archer Dunhill’s blood on it. A.D. wants one of the Liars to turn themselves in or else they’re all going down, and so each of the Liars responds to this threat by having sex.
Ezra tells Aria that he knows about the police report and he wouldn’t have been mad (and still wouldn’t be mad) if she filed it because he is, in fact, a very bad guy. But no, she wants to stay with him and tell him the whole truth about all the things, but she’s gotta kiss him first because she thinks that he might leave her. He assures her that he will not, and it’s true. Why in the world would he bail on a relationship with someone who keeps coming back for more of his selfish, entitled bullshit. He’d be in jail or drunk in an alley crying over another failed manuscript if it weren’t for her willingness to ignore how awful he is.
Ali leads Emily into the woods, which she says is nice because it is helping her think. Instead of, you know, triggering her PTSD from all the times she’s been killed here in this forest. They arrive at what I believe is the kissing rock, the place Ian statutory raped Ali on a video that was eventually projected onto a mausoleum in a graveyard the Liars were creeping through in the middle of the night. It is at that rock where Alison died and in these woods where Emily also died that they take off at least some of their clothes and engage in a little closed-mouth kissing while lying side by side. At least I think that’s what’s happening. Unlike Ezria and Spoby (wait, I’m getting to it), I’m watching them have sex from behind like a log and a family of foxes. It’s gauzy. They stroke each other’s faces.
Spencer goes to Toby’s cabin in the woods. He is a lumberjack now. A grieving lumberjack. Doesn’t matter to Spencer, though, I’ll tell you what. She is good at everything except for two things: 1) besting Mona, 2) being alone for more than ten minutes. She crawls on top of Toby and talks about all that kissing they did in their teenage years and romping around seedy motel rooms. “Remember that time we were staking out Jenna and Garrett and you took off your shirt and played Scrabble with me?” she asks him. “Remember when you faked your own death and I went fucking berserk and ended up in the same asylum where I was born but then I got out and you were alive?” Toby does remember. They do it.
Hanna and Caleb skip the sex. Caleb takes Hanna to the courthouse to get married and guess who else is there? Ashley Marin! Hanna refused her help earlier, though she hugged her for offering it, but Ashley remains the only competent, loving parent in the entire state of Pennsylvania so she called a lawyer to keep Hanna and her teddy bear out of jail, and she brought a bouquet for her, and she pulled some strings to wake up the judge after hours, and she looks on as Caleb and Hanna say I do and I do. It’s very sweet. It’s very, very sweet. Theirs is the only relationship that makes sense at the end of the day, at least with the storytelling that was delivered to us on-screen, and they’re the ones who deserve this moment and it warms my tired heart. Also, now they can’t be called on to testify against each other.
The Liars — besides Aria — come together to wait out the Game’s ticking clock. When it goes off and declares that they’re all going down, Spencer grabs a boulder from somewhere and smashes it to pieces. Aria isn’t there because she’s going to turn herself into the cops. A.D. tries to talk her out of it because “tomorrow is another day” but suddenly Aria is surrounded by red lights and blue lights and oh hey there’s a dead body with a missing finger inside the trunk of her car. #PoorEzra